Wes Craven’s Scream franchise is one of the most iconic in horror cinema history. Debuting in the mid-90s, the original Scream (1996) movie was titled Scary Movie and was meant to be a standalone film commenting on the horror genre. It was a “meta horror” movie due to the self-referential nature of the film and the fact that the characters had awareness of the genre and horror-movie tropes.
Along with the Halloween franchise, the Scream franchise is one of the highest-grossing slasher-film series of all time with five movies, the fifth of which is in development as of summer 2020 as well as two seasons of an anthology horror TV show. The franchise has also inspired a satirical franchise of its own, with five Scary Movie films being made between 2000-2013.
This list compiles interesting background information, Easter eggs, horror-movie tropes, and behind-the-scenes information about all the Scream films and their development.
The movie is based on a true story.
Writer Kevin Williamson (who would go on to write Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, The Following, and Tell Me A Story) caught an episode of the news magazine show Turning Point in which the subject was the serial killer Danny Rolling, known as the Gainesville Ripper. The next day, Williamson returned home and noticed an open window he didn’t remember leaving open. Inspired by his own fear of a home invasion and the news story of a serial killer targeting college students, Williamson wrote the script for what was then titled Scary Movie. He was awarded the Saturn Award for Best Writing for his script.
Scream references horror history.
Kevin Williamson said he was inspired to work on the Scary Movie script because it reflected the kind of horror movie he grew up watching, and no one else was making it. The horror genre had faded into obscurity by the mid-90s, and most new horror was in the form of direct-to-video sequels. Williamson listened to the soundtrack to the original Halloween (1978) while he wrote. The script contains allusions to some of the horror he watched growing up: Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, When a Stranger Calls, and Prom Night.
There’s a line cribbed from Halloween.
When Casey Becker’s parents discover their daughter missing and their house in disarray, her father instructs her mother to “go down the road to the MacKenzies’.” This is the exact line that scream-queen Jamie Lee Curtis herself tells her babysitting charges in Halloween.
Principal Himbry’s death wasn’t in the original script.
Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein thought that a 30-page section of the script in which no murders occurred needed to be spiced up, so he tasked Kevin Williamson with adding another character’s death. The result is the scene in which the school’s principal is killed in his office. This murder also gave a reason for most of the students to leave Stu Macher’s house party before the film’s finale to investigate a rumor that principal Himbry has been hung from the goalposts on the football field. This left the main characters alone to battle in the final scenes.
Wes Craven thought he was done with horror.
When the studio approached Wes Craven to direct Scream, he was considering leaving the horror genre because of what he saw as its problems with violence and rampant misogyny. Considered a master of the genre, Craven had been making horror films since 1972’s The Last House on the Left, which he also wrote. Craven refused several offers to direct until he learned that Drew Barrymore had been cast. Knowing that an established star was excited to be a part of the movie, Craven felt he could make a new kind of horror film.
Drew Barrymore asked for her role.
Scream represents a big shift in the horror genre, as it originated the concept of casting well-known actors. Prior to Scream, horror-film casts featured largely unknown actors. Drew Barrymore, already considered a star at the time, read Scream‘s script and approached the producers about getting a role. She was immediately cast as the lead, Sidney Prescott. Later on, filming conflicts led to Barrymore moving to the smaller role of Casey Becker. Nevertheless, her involvement helped attract other top talent to the film.
Killing off a major actress in early in the film was a totally unexpected move. Horror audiences were conditioned by other films to believe a big star would have a leading role, meaning they would at least survive until the film’s climax. Barrymore’s death at the beginning of Scream unnerved the audience, letting them know that any character could die at any moment. The director who is thought to have originated this trick was Alfred Hitchcock, who had lead actress Janet Leigh killed off before Psycho (1960) was half-finished.
More casting stories…
Deputy Dewey Riley’s role was originally supposed to be portrayed as “hunky,” but Wes Craven liked David Arquette’s sensitive, humorous audition and gave him the part. Matthew Lillard was only cast as Stu Macher because he followed his girlfriend to an audition for another project and was approached by a casting director in the hallway. Linda Blair of Exorcist fame had a cameo as a reporter.
The name came from a Michael Jackson song.
“Scream” was the lead single for Michael Jackson’s album History: Past, Present and Future, Book I and the inspiration for the Weinstein brothers to rename the film from Scary Movie.
Industry insiders told Craven he would “never work again” if he left this line in.
In the script, a conversation between Sidney and Tatum called for a reference to an urban legend about Richard Gere involving a gerbil in a sex act. Industry friends told Craven he would “never work again” if he kept the story in. The line made the final cut, likely due to Craven’s preferences for blurring the lines between different “realities.” The line makes the world of the film feel as real as the audience’s “real world,” where they’d likely heard the rumor on their own.
The films have had to be toned down for the MPAA.
Director Craven had many disputes with the Motion Picture Association of America about the film’s rating and its levels of gore and violence. The MPAA originally rated Scream as NC-17, which would have significantly lowered the film’s box-office revenue. Craven was forced to tone down several scenes, including cutting part of W. Earl Brown’s performance as Kenny the cameraman, because his expression while dying was “too disturbing.” The MPAA also wanted Drew Barrymore’s opening scene to be recut to something less intense. Wes Craven lied to the MPAA and claimed he had only one take of the scene, and it was allowed in the final cut.
No thanks whatsoever to the Santa Rosa School District.
Production had to move at the last minute after the Santa Rosa High School district’s governing board changed their mind and decided Scream‘s script was too violent. Another location for Woodsboro High School was found in another town. Wes Craven mentioned the school board in the credits, adding “NO THANKS WHATSOEVER TO THE SANTA ROSA CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD.”
Horror hood: You’ve seen this spot before.
The Sonoma County location used for Casey Becker’s home is directly across the street from the house used for Cujo (1983).
There was a very real stabbing.
Collapsible knives were used to avoid injury while filming stabbings on the set. In a scene during the finale in which Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) stabs Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) with an umbrella, the umbrella was given a collapsible tip and Ulrich was given a vest to wear for additional protection. Not only did Campbell miss the safety vest, she hit Ulrich in an old wound from a heart operation. In the final cut of the film, you can see Ulrich’s real pain as he reacts to the stabbing.
The movie engendered copycat crimes.
A series of copycat crimes occurred since the film’s release.
In 1998, two cousins, Mario Padilla (16) and Samuel Ramirez (14), claimed they were inspired by Scream and Scream 2 to murder Padilla’s mother. After the murder, they planned to steal money from the victim and use it to bankroll a murder spree they’d conduct dressed up as Ghostface and using a voice changer.
The following year, Ashley Murray (13) was stabbed by a pair of 14- and 15-year-old boys who’d been his friends. He survived the attack and says he believes the two were inspired by Scream. Sketches of a Ghostface mask were found upon a search of the boys’ homes.
In 2002, Alice Beaupère (15) was murdered by two 17-year-old friends who wore Ghostface masks and stabbed the victim 42 times. Beaupère was able to tell a witness the identity of her murderer before she died of her wounds.
The Scream 2 script was leaked.
Scream 2 (1997) was rushed into production and released less than a year after the original. Despite the short turnaround, the project suffered from some major script setbacks. When Kevin Williamson sent his 40-page script to production, it was leaked in full to the internet. The script identified four killers: Derek, Hallie, Cotton Weary, and Mrs. Loomis. While shooting went on, Williamson rewrote the script, keeping the pages with the killer’s identity from even the actors until the day of shooting.
Scream 3 was going to be about a killer Stab club.
The plot of Scream 3 (2000) was affected by the aftermath of the Columbine High School Massacre, which made the American public weary of violence in video games and movies. Kevin Williamson’s original idea was for a return to Woodsboro with members of the high school’s Stab club (ostensibly a film club for fans of the movie within a movie, Stab) as the killers. The idea of killer high-school kids was scrapped, and the film features a new and returning cast of adult professionals. Because the high- school-Stab-club-as-killers idea had been Williamson’s since writing the first movie’s script, Matthew Lillard was contracted to reprise his role in the third film as Stu Macher. Having survived the events of Scream, Macher was going to be working with the Stab club to groom its members into the perfect serial killers.
Carrie Fisher helped write her lines.
Carrie Fisher has a cameo as actress/studio employee Bianca Burnette in Scream 3. Wes Craven says in the DVD commentary that she helped write her own lines.
Scream 3 featured one of Michael Myers’s haunted homes.
The film’s climax takes place at studio president John Milton’s home, which is actually the Canfield-Moreno Estate in Silver Lake, CA. The home should look familiar to horror fans; it was used as the school in Halloween: H20 (1998), another Kevin Williamson film.
A Scream love story, kind of…
Courteney Cox and David Arquette fell in love after meeting on the set of Scream. They married in 1999 and had a daughter named Coco in 2004 before separating in 2010. Arquette has subsequently gone to rehab and is now sober.
Art influences life.
Three times as many people purchased caller ID in the years following Scream’s release than were using the service previously.
Ghostface was going to be dressed in all white.
Originally, Ghostface’s costume was going to be entirely white so that he appeared more ghostlike. However, after dressing the character in a white mask and white robe, production thought he looked like a KKK member and changed to a white mask with a black robe.
An ad-libbed love story…
In the finale, Stu Macher seemingly confesses his feelings for Sidney Prescott, saying, “I always had a thing for ya, Sid” as the two struggle. Sidney replies, “in your dreams.” Both lines were ad-libbed by the actors. The two dated for a short time in real life.
None of the cast met Ghostface.
The character of Ghostface was voiced by Roger Jackson. To keep the cast as frightened as possible, director Craven kept Jackson hidden on set. In scenes where the characters were talking to Ghostface on the phone, they would really be talking to Jackson in real time, just not face to face.
The Brat Pack almost came to Woodsboro.
Molly Ringwald was offered the part of Sidney Prescott but turned it down because she didn’t want to play a high schooler again.
Tatum really could fit through that doggy door.
Rose McGowan could easily fit through the doggy door in the garage where her character got “stuck” and crushed to death. The crew made it appear realistic that she would get stuck by nailing some of her clothing to the garage.
A nightmare in Woodsboro…
Skeet Ulrich was given the part of Billy Loomis because he reminded Wes Craven of Johnny Depp, whom Craven cast in his first role ever in A Nightmare on Elm Street. When Billy climbs through Sidney’s window at the beginning of the movie, it is a direct allusion to the scene in Nightmare on Elm Street where Depp’s character climbs through his girlfriend’s window and scares her. Billy’s last name is also an allusion to Dr. Samuel Loomis, the doctor who chases down Michael Myers in Halloween. Additionally, the sheriff of Woodsboro is played by an actor who was a police officer in Nightmare (Joseph Whipp).
A cameo from beyond the grave.
Although Matthew Lillard is supposedly killed off in Scream, he has a cameo in Scream 2 at the sorority party scene 35 minutes into the movie.
Keeping the ending a secret.
On the set of Scream 2, none of the cast knew who the killers were until the last days of production. On the set of Scream 3, Wes Craven shot three different endings, and none of the cast knew which one was real.
Blurring the lines between Hollywood and so-called reality…
Parker Posey stars as an actress playing Gail Weathers in Stab, the fictionalized version of the events of Scream that have taken on a life of their own. Her character wears the exact same green suit that Courteney Cox wore in a scene in the original Scream.
Scream 3 was set to open with a totally different kill.
According to IMDb, the opening scene for Scream 3 could have been much different:
An alternate opening was written, but never filmed. The opening scene contained Sidney Prescott and a friend of hers alone in her house (in a different state) getting ready to watch a video. Unbeknownst to Sidney, the killer calls Sidney and her friend claiming that he is in the house watching them, which turns out to be true. The killer jumps out from a closet and attempts to attack a frightened Sidney and her friend. Sidney however, pulls out a gun and shoots the killer several times. Upon unmasking him, the killer turned out to be a fan who was pulling a prank on Sidney.
Scream 5 is coming in 2021.
It will be the first movie from the franchise not directed by Wes Craven, as he died of cancer in 2015.